I recently watched Netflix original “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: P.S. I Still Love You” with my boyfriend. Here’s a conversation I had with him:
Boyfriend: “They have the best chemistry I’ve seen in probably 20 years. At least since ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith.’”
Me: “Weren’t they hating sleeping with each other?”
BF: “Not at that point. Well, maybe.”
Yes, Lana Condor and Noah Centineo have chemistry as good as Brad and Angelina, pre-marriage and ugly breakup.
We were both fans of the film’s precursor, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” which came out last year. It was a cute movie of a girl with a crush and the boy who learned to love her.
Lara Jean (Condor) and Peter (Centineo) are the focus of a trilogy of books by Jenny Han. In Book No. 1, we learn Lara Jean had written secret letters to her crushes over the years, and her younger sister sent them out. Peter received one, in addition to a few other boys, including one John Ambrose McClaren. We meet him briefly in the first film, but the real focus was on Lara Jean and Peter. I had no clue what was coming in Book/Film No. 2, but I was certain it would be just as fluffy and sweet.
I was wrong.
“I Still Love You” brings back John Ambrose, although the role has been recast with Jordan Fisher taking on the role. He got Lara Jean’s letter, and he’s crushing hard. Lara Jean, meanwhile, is figuring out how to be a girlfriend. She’s dealing with jealousy over Peter’s ex and doubting herself at every turn. It doesn’t help that her boyfriend is one of the most popular in school.
Enter John Ambrose. He’s shy, smart and shares many of Lara Jean’s interests. He also thinks she’s wonderful, which leads to a conflicted Lara Jean who tries to have her Peter cake and John Ambrose ice cream, too. She doesn’t tell John Ambrose she has a boyfriend, and she gives Peter as few details about John Ambrose as she can. In fact, she doesn’t really want to tell him John Ambrose is in the picture at all.
While I absolutely adored the first film and its story, I seriously struggled with “I Still Love You.” Maybe it’s the fact I couldn’t quite remember what it felt like to be 16 and a newbie at this thing called love. I found myself getting irritated at Lara Jean, Jenny Han and anyone else involved in the creation of the story. Whereas the first film created a sweet love story, the second tore it apart.
While watching, I grew angry with Lara Jean for inadvertently playing the field. I also found myself struggling not to root for John Ambrose. Peter was painted as a bit of a party boy buffoon. He’s the guy who’s hours late for a date because of lacrosse practice and doesn’t text. He’s the guy who plays drinking games at a party while his girlfriend eats ice cream sandwiches with her gay best friend. And yes, he’s the guy who rips off an Edgar Allan Poe poem and passes it off as his own.
The film does everything possible to make Peter seem like an arrogant, inconsiderate jock while John Ambrose is nothing but sweet. He volunteers at a retirement home, loves Harry Potter and would do just about anything to make Lara Jean smile.
I appreciate a good love triangle as much as the next viewer, but it was ineffectual here. Love triangles can make for a compelling story, but a love triangle must have two compelling potential relationships to be a successful triangle. Ya know, Edward or Jacob. Eric or Vampire Bill. Duckie or Blane. Wolverine or Cyclops. While some of those may be stretches, “I Still Love You” didn’t just create tension by introducing John Ambrose to the mix, it offered an option that might be a better fit. (I mean, what girl doesn’t want a boy to sit with her in a tree house and read?) It creates a major narrative problem, because Peter is corrupted to the point he’s no longer the best choice. If Lara Jean doesn’t choose John Ambrose, it creates a bit of cognitive dissonance and makes it hard for us to believe in the movie’s reality, especially ahead of the last film.
While the film’s main characters might have been problematic though, Holland Taylor made a big splash at the retirement home. Her character, Stormy, is the mentor and kick in the pants Lara Jean needs. Taylor is absolutely delightful and deserves a spin-off film of her own.
Bottom line: “I Still Love You” isn’t the cute romantic movie you’re looking for, at least not like the first one. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I’ll be holding it in the same esteem that I do the first time.